Cancer treatment backlog ‘could take decade to clear’ in England with 19,500 people suffering diagnosis delay

According to a new report, 19,500 people have not been diagnosed with cancer that should have been.

It could take over a decade to clear the cancer treatment backlog in England, a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPS) think tank and the CF health consultancy has suggested.

The pandemic has taken such a big toll that an estimated 19,500 people have not been diagnosed with cancer that should have been due to missed referrals, according to the report.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • The new study calculated that even if “stretched” hospitals could achieve 5% more treatments and procedures than before the pandemic, it will still take until 2033 to clear the cancer treatment “missing patients backlog”.
  • If that figure could be pushed up to 15% then backlogs could be cleared by next year, the report suggests.
  • One of the main issues in cancer care is around diagnosis, with the pandemic leading to a 37% drop in endoscopies, a 25% drop in MRI scans and a 10% drop in CT scans than expected, the study said.
  • While the number of people who need cancer treatment has not changed, the research shows that during the height of the pandemic 369,000 fewer people than expected were referred to a specialist with suspected cancer (15% lower than expected),

What’s been said

Dr Parth Patel, IPPR research fellow and an NHS doctor, said: “The pandemic has severely disrupted cancer services in England, undoing years of progress in improving cancer survival rates.

“Now the health service faces an enormous backlog of care that threatens to disrupt services for well over a decade. We know every delay poses risks to patients’ chances of survival.

“Clearing the cancer care backlog before the next general election looks unlikely with the way the NHS is currently resourced, staffed and organised.

“The funding announced this month is just about enough to keep the health service afloat, but does not provide the funds needed to bring down pandemic backlogs as quickly as possible or transform service quality.

“The Government has pledged to improve cancer survival in this country, which lags far behind most similar countries.


Researchers have urged the government to provide more cash for equipment and staff at hospitals to make sure post-pandemic cancer care is better than pre-pandemic levels.

They argued that the UK has poor cancer outcomes compared to similar countries, the lowest numbers of CT and MRI scanners per head in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and workforce shortages across all cancer services.

Additional reporting by PA.

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